https://www.duolingo.com/madison680053

Can a native language be forgotten??

I have a friend whose native language was Swedish, once she started learning English she slowly started becoming more able to think in English than Swedish, and says now she speaks fluent English, and is unable to recall much more than conversational Swedish. How is this possible? How can a native language be forgotten? Will this ever happen to me?

February 11, 2017

43 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/Lrtward
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Sure. There are people who leave their home country at a young age (3, 4, 5) and totally forget their native language.

If you speak your native language at home, or periodically with relatives via Skype, or if you watch movies and read books in your native language, though, you won't forget it.

February 11, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Nightshade318103

Cool.

February 13, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/AnnaGuaGua
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Well my father was born in the US, but spoke Italian at home, until he went to school. Now, he knows bits and pieces of Italian, but cant speak it very well, even though he spoke it for the first 5 years of his life. So I guess the answer is yes.

February 11, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/GlobalJim711
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My grandmother came from former Czechoslovakia to the US as a young woman. She learned English, but my mom and her sisters and brothers were bilingual at home. She spoke only English with me and of course all the grandchildren, l learned Russian along the way and it helped when she was in her late 90s. She forgot all the English she had learned.

February 11, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/cdub4language
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Smart thinking! My great-grandmother had the same issue... she apparently spoke 4-5 languages but due to Alzheimer's forgot everything except Russian. No one else in my family spoke it though - my grandmother had to learn some just to communicate, and that was pre-internet!

February 12, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
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It looks like folks have covered age and lack of practice. So, I'll just add that some brain injuries can cause the loss of one's native language. For those who have learned a language later in life, they can sometimes retain the L2.

February 12, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Victorcarrera0

In my case not entirely. I grew up bilingual up to the age of 16 when I moved away from home and stopped using the indigenous language with minimal listening or reading since. 40 years on I can still understand most of the spoken language but when I try to speak it I find it difficult to retrieve many words. The sentence structure of the two languages is very different but I haven't lost that and I don't even have to think about it. I think I could get it back very quickly though with practice. When I try to write sentences I realize my spelling is very poor.

February 11, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/susanstory
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On surveys and on the census, there is always a question, "First language learned in childhood and still understood", so the government obviously thinks people can forget their native language.

February 11, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/chilvence
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I've been told I could speak Arabic when I was about five. It's a mystery to me because now I can barely understand a word of it. It wasn't my native language, but I can well imagine it is easy to forget something if you just completely stop using it. The act of recall itself is very important for keeping memories alive. I've forgotten 80% of everything I ever learned at school because so much of it simply doesn't factor into my life. Your brain only stays fit for what you actually need it for.

It won't happen to you if you don't want it to though - just make sure you use your languages relatively often, even if it is just to read a bit or listen to the radio.

February 11, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Lorel90
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Maybe your friend came to the US when he was a small kid. That normally does not happen to adults and older children, especially if you speak, read and watch TV in both languages, if you stop speaking English totally maybe the native language will suffer. I have a dutch friend who learned Spanish in college (second language, Dutch is his first language) and he never practiced again. When he was 50s, he took a job in Panama and the Spanish came back.

February 11, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/vicki.kura

False. My father's whole family lost their language. They were a wide range of ages since there were eight of them. Practice keeps you fluent. You stop using it, you lose it. Yet they will relearn it easier than those of us that have not been exposed to the language.

February 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Lorel90
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Interesting. So the whole family stopped using the language, the parents and kids? This is very rare, usually people who knew a language, once they are immerse in that language it comes back pretty quickly. Gengo9 below has an interesting comment about the Japanese.

February 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/vicki.kura

Once his grandparents were dead they felt no need to use it anymore.

March 5, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/vicki.kura

Not that rare. Very common actually. I know many families that did this. They wanted to be "American" and fit in. Ironically, that side of my family is very prejudiced towards "foreigners" when their own grandparents,father, and uncles came over on the boat!

My mother's family did not keep their languages either. Most Americans do not speak a second language and none of their ancestors spoke American English.

Now, many people are trying to learn native languages. I think so many people feel their culture was lost.

March 5, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/elvper
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Past a certain age I don't think you can forget your native language. It might get a bit blurry and disorganized, but actually forgetting? I think not.

February 11, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/VictorTheodor

For me my native language is Russian and after a year or two i can't really speak it but i can fluently understand it if you speak slow

February 11, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/IsakNygren1
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I lost some of my native language while living in the US. I could still understand it but could hold a proper conversation. The grammar and pronunciation became a disaster. But I got it back very fast when I came back to my country.

February 12, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Gengo9
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Hi. Short answer is yes. You can, but it takes a lot. You'd have to be cut off from your main language and immersed in the new language (or languages) quite completely. I've known people who say it happened. I'm from Japan and grew up bilingual, but I don't imagine English and Japanese not being in my life so completely in the modern world. With internet, international business, Skype with friends andc relatives, various forms of entertainment. The studies I've read about them were in Japan about Japanese soldiers left behind in the Soviet Union at the end of WW2. They pretended to be Russian or Kazakh from other regions to survive. Cold War had them stuck and there was no internet back then. After 50 years, they weren't able to have a conversation in Japanese, even if they were 20 when stuck. If your native language isn't a major global language, you move to another part of the world and only speak and hear the new language for a very long time, it happens to some people.

February 12, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Deo.
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Some people who may have travelled to another country as a child and stayed in another country most of their life would mostly forget bits and pieces of their native. They wouldn't really forget unless they talk often with people in their native language.

February 11, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/swingbeatnik7
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It happened to me, but I still know the alphabet, many phrases and prayers. Fortunately, these people can learn their native tongue faster than others. It's my goal to re-learn it after learning more Spanish.

February 12, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/cdub4language
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Maybe not completely forgotten if it was learned into adulthood, but certainly weakened. I moved to France in my 20s 3.5 years ago, and even though I speak English (my native language) with my spouse and some friends, and stay in contact with family pretty regularly, I'm noticing it's getting worse. When there are two words that sounds similar in French and English but have somewhat different meanings, I've started to use the French definition when I use it in English. I also said "fault" instead of "mistake" the other day. I made 2-3 really basic English mistakes in an e-mail this week too (past tense conjugation). I don't think I'll ever completely forget English but other English speakers have already started noticing that I speak English a little like a French person.

February 12, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Nightshade318103

Yes, because i think your head tries to make room for the new language ,so you think of the new language, but if you do stuff to remember this old language, it will not be forgotten. I know that makes no sense whatsoever ,but who cares.

February 13, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Giokate

My dad's first language is Finnish, but he had to learn English when he started school in Canada at age six. He doesn't remember Finnish at all other than maybe four or five words. The words he does remember are the ones for "bad boy" which he says was yelled at him a lot when he was a child, plus a couple of swear words (which he probably heard from his older siblings). Funnily enough, it seems like people always remember the swear words.

February 16, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Fallasus101
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Perhaps the grammar can be forgotten, but they should still be able to understand the written and spoken versions of the language, or at least speak in a broken dialect. It depends on the age at which it stopped being used.

February 11, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/espofleet
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There are parents who go to another country with children when are very young and make them to learn other language and after a while, those children forget their native language. It happens a lot.

February 11, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Talulah

I have a friend (21) who lives in Croatia, and learned English in school. His English is impeccable and he can easily even make puns and jokes in English but, some times he struggles to remember the Croatian word for things while talking to his Dad. The games/shows/music he enjoys are in English, and most of his Croatian friends don't speak English very well, so he feels a bit alienated locally.

February 22, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/joel104
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I didnt think that was possible. I thought it was like riding a bike. You never forget something like that. I guess it makes sense. I suppose you never really forget the basics though because it is put into long-term memory. The more u practice the better you will remember the information of anything.

February 22, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/chilvence
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Actually the bike analogy does kind of fit. You can't forget how to ride a bike, if you have done it once you can do it forever, but if you don't actually do it for 10 years, you'll find yourself very unfit and probably make some silly mistakes and it will all feel very strange when you do. After a few days or weeks though, it starts getting easier.

It's a bit like my French. It has fallen into compete disuse, I can barely string a sentence together, I struggle to remember basic vocabulary. But if you dumped me in France with nothing but the clothes I'm wearing, I would easily be able to find my feet. It's a large part of the reason I am spreading my attention over so many languages - I know that a lot of it sinks in forever, even can be a bit hit and miss how well your brain organises it.

February 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/RKehle

As a child I spoke English and German fluently. All my children's books were in German. When the 2nd world war began and I was in the 2nd grade, I got ruffed up by some 5th graders. My parents (German immigrants) ceased speaking German at home and I soon forgot the language. Today, 75 years later I can say a few greetings and count, but not much else.

February 22, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/ALanguageStudier

Im not entirely sure. My mom had known Spanish for at least 20 years and when she moved to the US, she had to learn full English. Now she speaks fluent English, but I heard from others that she has an accent (I probably dont hear it because I`ve grown up with it).

Anyways, she usually spoke it to me in Spanish at home so I could learn Spanish, and it worked. Maybe even a little too well. When my brother came along and my mom tried the same thing on him, I decided to help him by translating everything she said for him. She gave up after a while. Even though now she speaks usually English, she still knows all of Spanish.

Now, there are other factors like having Spanish speaking family and friends, but I believe that they need to be exposed to it most of their life to be fluent in the language. Hope this helps! :)

February 22, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Ian.Worthington
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My English vocabulary has certainly decreased and I have some trouble recalling English words over their Spanish equivalents.

February 22, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/ImePrezime1

I moved to another country 8 years ago (after high school) and I started to become fluent in my second language. First, my roommate found it annoying when I was talking to my parents and friends through Skype and I reduced talking to my family "live". After a couple of weeks, I realized that typing is also a good form of communication and I completely quit using Skype when I talked to my parents. As time passed, my friends and I did not have many common topics and we talked less and less after we finally stopped communicating. I didn't use my native language for almost 2 years! I just came home this week to see my family which hardly understands what I said for the first couple of days. Now I find it easier to talk my native language again.

I think nobody is able to completely forget his/her native language but it can be hard to speak it if it's not used. I also forgot how to form long, beautiful sentences and I have a strange accent. I talk faster than usual but sometimes I completely forget how to "use a phrase" correctly. I also forgot some rare words I used to know. Btw, when I was at school/high school, I won many grammar/literature competitions in my native language. Today, many words and phrases have an unfamiliar sound and I think I should watch some videos and read my old books (I mean read out loud) to practice. I also realized that my second language changed the way I form vowels and consonants which causes the strange accent, I use some translated phrases which are commonly used in one language but hardly make sense in the other. As you can see, right now I am a language disaster. :D

February 22, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/FelicityRask

English is my native language but I lived in a Spanish speaking country until I was 12. School classes were half in English and half in Spanish. I was comfortable in both languages but had a better english vocabulary which was the language we used in our home. For the last 65 years I have used Spanish infrequently and feel awkward when I do speak. Am now doing a daily batch of Duolingo and am surprised that I am making progress and enjoying it. I would get along much faster if I took the time to read an interesting story or magazine.

February 22, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/MTCarey
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I think it can get very rusty. in a situation where the language was only in Norwegain French or German for over a week, I struggled to find words in my Native English. Also returning to the uk I had to make an enormous effort to speak English as the words fell out of my mouth in the language in which I had been immersed. I find the less I now use English the less I am able to play with language and find words that are more nuanced in English, I feel I am at a stage were Fluency is affected but not a working knowledge

February 22, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/KatherineMaas
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I know lots of people who have lost their first language to varying degrees. I had a Dutch uncle-in-law who spoke English with a Dutch accent and who had lived in the US so long that he claimed he couldn't speak Dutch any longer. My own life partner grew up completely bilingual (French and English) in New Brunswick; now that we have been living over 20 years in western Canada, she has lost a lot of her French vocabulary.

February 22, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/2Chronicles7.14
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It will most likely not happen to you but it could have been caused by a few things.

  1. Not speaking enough Swedish while learning English

  2. Moving from your home country at a young age

  3. Loss of memory

Your friend could go on duolingo and learn Swedish for English speakers while maintaining her English skills. That would be the best thing to do in my opinion.

February 27, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/ChristineLay

I only spoke Spanish for the first 5 years of my life in Puerto Rico. When we moved to the US my parents both stopped speaking Spanish so that we would all learn English, which is of course easier at that age. When I took Spanish in 11th grade I found myself feeling that certain sentence structures 'sounded right' and realized that my memory was not wiped out entirely. I went back to Puerto Rico to live with cousins while attending the university there for 4 years. Within that first year I was dreaming in Spanish. Though it took 3 years to understand everything my professors were saying to me, knowing that I hadn't completely forgotten my first language gave me an incredible amount of self-confidence that I held onto. I know from personal experience that what we experience and learn in the first 6 years of our life can still be accessed.

February 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/vicki.kura

My father grew up speaking Polish and English. Once his grandparents died they stopped speaking Polish. He lost the language a very long time ago. He does remember a few things....like swear words. lol

February 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Vladigraph

It's a matter of practice. If you don't practice your native language you start not so much complete forgetting, as making mistakes in certain words and grammar. If you start practicing it again, it will come back though, it's not like you'll have to learn back your native language is if it were completely foreign.

March 26, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/LeaCzinkot

Actually I haven't moved To any other country, but I use my native lanuage on a daily basis, and I'm actually forced To speak it. But since I've been watching English videos and movies, especially cartoon movies, sometimes a word comes To my mind in English first. Like there has been a time when I said "it rolled" instead of "gurult". Sometimes I say a Hungarian setence with an English word order. I haven't lost it yet, but I'm worse at it than a few years ago. My devices are in English too, I also write down my thoughts in English and I write songs in English too. In some situations I prefer using Hungarian, but most of the time I prefer using English. And according To a vocabulary test my vocabulary is estimated To be 6570 words. But I'm only 14 and I know more things than I'm supposed To. I don't say I hate my own mother language because I love it. I hope I won't forget my native language.

November 11, 2017
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